21/12/2012 | Journalism is not the only actor to blame for the lack of trust in anything that is public in Argentina. Critics would argue the Kirchners era shot itself in the foot of credibility by sabotaging cost of living figures produced by the INDEC statistics bureau, circa 2006. Credibility is easy to lose and hard to recover. But when the government pushed the critical press onto the ring of suspicion, the media establishment did the worse thing they could do: join the fight.
The result? Over four years after the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the country’s media champion Grupo Clarín declared war on each other, one of the chief journalists of Clarín, the organization’s flagship newspaper, says in an interview with a foreign journalist that Grupo Clarín’s main mistake has been to have “very poor institutional communication.”
Read Ricardo Kirschbaum, Clarín’s editor-in-chief, in an interview last weekend with the Spanish daily El País (http://cor.to/lDce ): “One of the problems (Grupo) Clarín has had, to be self-critical, is that it has had very poor institutional communication as a Group. Clarín has been attacked, smeared, extorted and there has been only silence from our side. I think this is a serious mistake and we are still paying for it.”
To the average journalist, institutional communication is the corporate equal to political propaganda. Grupo Clarín has come out with a neat institutional campaign this year, directly aimed at its public rather than the political establishment. The campaign, which consisted of television, radio and newspaper ads, was more articulated than the spasmodic defence Grupo Clarín made of its own interests during the 2009 congressional debate of the Broadcasting Media Act which, once out of a legal cobweb, would oblige the media giant to downsize. And still, for an organization whose main asset is a reputation built throughout six decades of journalism and entertainment, going too institutional might be a bad idea.
“We let others, even our enemy, write our own history and I think that was a mistake,” added Kirschbaum in the interview.
One story about Grupo Clarín was told on Saturday evenings on the government-run Canal 7 over the last month. The four-piece documentary Clarín, Un invento argentino (Clarín, an Argentine invention) reviewed the history of the group since its foundation by Roberto Noble in 1945. Surprisingly more balanced that one would expect to get these days, the documentary however lacks the voice of somebody from the current leadership of Grupo, be it any of its four main shareholders, its main journalistic figures or its institutional relations staff. Director Ari Lijalad says that all those interviews were requested but not granted. Lijalad even says that Kirschbaum had agreed to the interview but cancelled it the day before it was scheduled.
“The documentary sought to be as plural and diverse as possible,” explains Lijalad. “We interviewed historians, media experts, journalists, union representatives and people who managed Clarín in the past, such as Oscar Camilión and Octavio Frigerio. There is also an interview with Noble’s only daughter, Guadalupe Noble. The only limit to the documentary’s diversity was Grupo Clarín itself.”
If the Grupo Clarín leadership had the feeling that institutional communication could save them from what they perceive to be a multi-fold attack from the government, they may be overdoing it, just as the Fernández de Kirchner administration has been overshooting its expectations surrounding the outcome of the implementation of the Broadcasting Law. As part of its PR strategy, Grupo Clarín has also been sending out a weekly newsletter called “Our word,” which outlines its positions on the media wrangle.
Going institutional would not be much of a problem if the corporate discourse did not spill over the news coverage, as has been the case of Grupo Clarín journalism over the last few years. Spilling or not spilling is what separates a newspaper from a house organ. In the El País interview, Kirschbaum says that he is “not proud of the journalism we are seeing” and acknowledges that his newsroom might have become “predictable” in its stubborn opposition to the government. Only recently, the newspaper Clarín published a front-page story saying 80 percent of Argentina’s media was “controlled” by the Fernández de Kirchner administration. The list of “K-controlled” media, according to this take, includes everything from State-run media to media who gets advertising from the government. Grupo Clarín also used to get plenty of State advertising before it parted company with the Kirchners government circa 2008 — and it would still call itself an independent newspaper then. Binding editorial line to ownership may be a no-brainer but is also misleading. It is exactly the same thing the most diehard government followers have wrongfully said about Grupo Clarín, as if each and every one of its journalists would only repeat the line of its management. Reality is, fortunately, never as simple as a house organ would want you to believe.
Marcelo J. García (@mjotagarcia) is a former Herald writer and coordinates the Communications Department at the Society for International Development (www.sidbaires.org.ar)